Home » National Monuments Memorials & Preserves » Spotlight on Texas Most Famous Landmark: The Alamo

Our recent Texas-New Mexico road trip was not complete without a visit to the Alamo in San Antonio. How can this not be a National Park Unit? UNESCO has recognized the Alamo as a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. History and heritage make the Alamo important to Texas. If you are a history buff like us, you know that this destination is not to be missed. Nothing brings history to life like being in the moment-seeing where the actual events took place.

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“The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion otherwise the garrison are to be put to the sword if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender nor retreat.”
― William Travis, at the Alamo
Two people in front of the Alamo chapel doors

Even though it’s not officially classified as a national park, the Alamo has a connection to the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which encompasses four other Spanish colonial missions in San Antonio. This group of sites was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Since this timeframe, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, has taken ownership of the Alamo. Prior to this, the Texas General Land Office oversaw it. The Alamo is most famous for the Texans, who defended it during the struggle for independence. Which led to the Battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!”

Inside the Chapel the flags of Texas
Chapel Flags

Getting to The Alamo

If you are travelling by car on Interstate 10 heading towards San Antonio: Take exit 570 for I-35 N toward Austin. Merge onto I-35 N. Keep right at the fork to stay on I-35 N, following signs for Downtown. Take exit 155C toward Houston St. Merge onto N PanAm Expy. Turn right onto E Houston St. Turn left at the first traffic light onto Bowie St. There are plenty of pay parking lots, but these are expensive. Metered parking is also very expensive. We found the City of San Antonio, Convention Center Garage, to have the most reasonable rates.

NOTE: There is a lot of ongoing construction on I-35 in and around San Antonio. The Alamo Plaza area is also under construction.

San Antonio has a public transportation system, including buses and trolleys, like the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus. Each mode can take you to the downtown area where the Alamo is located. You can use apps like VIA GoMobile to plan your route.

Mural of the Alamo painted on the wall of the long barracks

What is the Actual Story of The Alamo?

The Alamo had a humble beginning. The Franciscan Friars established a mission in 1718 aimed at converting local indigenous people to Catholicism. The chapel of “San Antonio de Valero” was built in 1757. It was here that a small contingent of Spaniards was garrisoned after secularization in 1803. The troops arrived from Pueblo de San Jose y Santiago del Alamo, Mexico. As a result, the Alamo acquired its name. During the Texas Revolution of 1836, the Alamo transitioned from a religious center to a crucial military base.

So most of what I remember from the battle of the Alamo I learned from watching the movies. It’s the 1830s, and Texas is in the middle of a serious tug-of-war between Mexico and settlers who want independence. The Alamo’s story is more like a series of standoffs and skirmishes.

Painting of the final Battle for the Alamo

Decisive Battle for the Alamo

The conflict known as the “Battle for the Alamo” launched when General Antonio López de Santa Anna laid siege to the fortress. Over a span of 13 days from February 23 to March 6 1836 he continued the bombardment. A brave band of defenders valiantly fought to protect the fort in the name of Texas, with figures like Davy Crockett, James Bowie and William B Travis, among them. Ultimately, The Alamo found itself vastly outnumbered by the army, leading to the demise of defenders. A small group of survivors, including women, children and enslaved individuals, managed to escape the fate that befell their comrades.

Alamo Walls sideview

This remarkable battle would set the stage for Texas Independence. This story of courage would become a rally cry, a symbol that still resonates with many people today.

David Crockett fought at the Palisade

Alamo Plaza: Heart of Texas History

Everyone is free to walk around Alamo Plaza. Only the chapel requires a timed entry ticket (free). The Alamo Plaza is open to the public during regular Alamo operating hours (9 am to 5:30 pm daily, closed Christmas Day). Map of Alamo Plaza.

Just outside the barracks walls is the Alamo Cenotaph. It commemorates the Battle of the Alamo. Standing 60 feet tall, it was erected in 1939 to honor the memory of the heroic defenders. There is a small exhibit illustrating the palisades as they would have appeared during the battle. A small cannon replica is placed strategically on the wooden palisade. A bronze of Davy Crockett, the legendary frontiersman, stands guard. A former Tennessee congressional representative, he joined the defenders at the Alamo during the Texas Revolution.

Note: Purchase tickets online in advance to avoid long lines, especially during peak season. Wear comfortable shoes, as the Alamo complex is quite large. Bring sunscreen and a hat, as the Texas sun can be intense. Drink plenty of water.

Lighted Entrance to the Almao

Exploring the Alamo Tours: Things to See and Do

The Alamo has shrunk over time, from an original size of 3 acres to just 1.6 acres now, because of encroachment by the City of San Antonio. It’s now only a third of its former size, making it possible to explore everything in half a day. Make sure you give yourself enough time to visit the Alamo Church, Long Barrack, Alamo Exhibit, and battlefield. During our visit, we opted for the Line in the Sand™ Self-Guided Experience ($20) tour, allowing us to discover the Alamo at our own pace. This package includes the Victory or Death™ Audio Tour narrated by Ray Benson. There are other optional tours available at varying fees, like the Remember, the Alamo™ Guided Tour ($45) which offers a more detailed insight into the history and importance of the Alamo with trained staff members. This tour also grants access to the $14 Ralston Family Collections Center.

Note: You can book just the Victory or Death™ Audio Tour, narrated by Ray Benson for $10

The Alamo Map view of a barred window in the alamo wall

Echoes of History: From Mission to Memorial the Alamo Church

At the heart of the Alamo stands the historic mission church, constructed back in the 18th century, making it one of Texas oldest structures. Just a friendly reminder, you’ll need to grab a timed entry pass (complimentary) to step inside the church. Occasionally, there might be a brief wait in line before you can enter. A photographer will snap your photo prior to granting you access through the charming wooden doors. You’ll have the option to purchase this picture at the gift shop later on.

Inside the Alamo Church Chapel
Inside the Alamo Shrine

On this sunny day, everything looked dark inside the chapel. Inside it’s the beautiful Spanish colonial architecture that first grabs your attention. I can’t believe how tiny this church really is. Thinking of the brave souls who defended this place made me sad. I couldn’t believe 200 defenders took refuge here. I particularly enjoyed reading the plaques honoring those legendary men who defended the mission. It was impossible to ignore the overwhelming sense of history around me. It really brings the Alamo story to life.

Ancient Frescos at the Alamo
Ancient Frescos at the Alamo

The Sacristy room had vibrant frescoes dating back to the Mission Era. Recently discovered these impressive paintings depict religious figures. Informative video panels, media projections, and soundscapes explain the Sacristy’s evolution. A spiritual place, most visitors recognized it as a respectful place.

The Gift Shop at the Alamo
The Gift Shop at the Alamo

The Alamo Gift Shop

Behind the Alamo Church stands the gift shop building, which’s not part of the original structures. Constructed in 1937, it was carefully designed to blend in with the architecture of the Alamo church and Long barracks. Inside, we found a selection of souvenirs, books and other items that tell the stories of the Alamo and Texas. The store offered everything one could think of. At the photo shop kiosk, they were eager to sell us a picture taken at the entrance of the Alamo church. It came at quite a price. We decided to pass on purchasing that package.

Giant Live Oak in the Convento Courtyard-The Alamo
Giant Live Oak in the Convento Courtyard-The Alamo

Stepping back outside, there is a group of five large, historical panels situated left of the gift shop. Alamo’s wall of history examines the timeline of the evolution of the mission and the struggle for independence to the birth of a republic and statehood. There is a lot of interesting historical detail in the panels for those who are a history buffs.

Iconic Texas flag display in the cavalry courtyard at the Alamo

Alamo Cavalry Courtyard: Tribute to Texas Heroes

The centerpiece of the courtyard is the raised concrete platform showcasing the iconic six flags of Texas. The flags of Spain (1519-1685 & 1690-1821), France (1685-1690), Mexico (1821-1836), Republic of Texas, (1836-1845), Confederate States of America, (1861-1865) and the United States of America, 1845-present.

The bronze statues commemorating the famous defenders dominate the cavalry courtyard. Each has a story tell of the heroics they demonstrated during the Texas fight for independence..

William B Travis Bronze in the Alamo courtyard
William Barret Travis by Glenna Goodacre

Defender of Liberty: The Legacy of William Barret Travis

The first bronze was William Barrett Travis, the Texan forces’ commander. Among his famous acts, he drew a line in the sand asking those who would stay and fight to cross it. The famous catch phrase was “Victory or Death,” His leadership was outstanding.

James Bowie by Deborah Fellows
James Bowie by Deborah Fellows

Bowie: Frontier Hero and Texas Legend

David Bowie was a prominent explorer. He fell quite ill just before the battle. Still, he continued to fight alongside his men. He fought with great valor during the struggle.

Bronze of John Williams Smith riding a horse in the Alamo courtyard
John William Smith,’El Colorado’ by Chris Navarro

Frontiersman and Patriot: The Legacy of John William Smith

He was a renown courier and scout. At the Battle of Béxar, he lead the Texans through the streets of San Antonio. Later, at the Alamo, he providing valuable intel on the movements of the Mexican forces to William B Travis and carried messages to the outside world.

Juan Nepomuceno Seguin by Enrique "Kiko" Guerra
Juan Nepomuceno Seguin by Enrique “Kiko” Guerra

Juan Seguin: Patriot of Two Worlds

John was a local resident with great knowledge of the region. Travis summoned him to dispatch a message to the Texan army led by Sam Houston. Therefore, he was absent from the final battle, because He later returned to help bury the defenders.

Emily West Morgan by Eddie Dixon bronze
Emily D. West by Eddie Dixon

Emily West Morgan: the “Yellow Rose of Texas”

Emily West Morgan was a free woman of mixed race. She was most notable in getting a message to Sam Houston while distracting Mexican General Santa Ana. At the battle of San Jacinto, this allowed Houston to swoop in, defeating the Mexican army. Although Emily West Morgan’s exact role in the Texas Revolution is debated among historians, her story has become rooted in Texas folklore.

Bromnze statue-Hendrick Arnold by Ed Dwight at the Alamo
Bronze of Henrick Arnold

Hendrick Arnold: Champion of Peace

Hendrick was of mixed race, originally from Mississippi. During the Texas Revolution, he was a guide and also a legendary spy. After an interaction with General Martín Perfecto de Cos, he joined with the Stephen F. Austin’s Texan army. He was an integral player in the Battle of Béxar.

The portico of the Long Barracks Museum at the Alamo
Long Barracks Museum

Walk in the Footsteps of Heroes at the Long Barrack Museum

The museum is in the former soldier barracks of the Alamo. It is the oldest remaining structure. We started by first viewing the 17-minute film “Crossroads of History,” which covered 300 years of the history of the Alamo. Inside the Pavillion, we found a remarkable array of exhibits and artifacts. Each tells the story of the battle and the people who fought here. The murals are really beautiful depictions of what life here was like for the early mission settlers. The long barracks are a must-visit for anyone interested in Texas history.

The courtyard outside the Long Barracks
The courtyard outside the Long Barracks

The Alamo Plaza: Convento Courtyard

This peaceful garden courtyard lies next to the Long Barracks. The Convento Courtyard derives its name from the mission, which was originally constructed as part of the Mission San Antonio de Valero. Throughout the courtyard, there are benches to sit, and relax. A giant live Oak tree dominates the center of the garden. Pecan trees grow on the outer ring provide additional shade. The Dr. Shiga’s 1914 Alamo Monument is an ode to the Alamo. The gardens commemorate the Texas Centennial. Educational programs are often held here during the day.

Ralston Building The Alamo
Ralston Building The Alamo

Ralston Family Collections Center

A re-enactor lighting a cannon at the living history camp the Alamo
A re-enactor lighting a cannon at the living history camp the Alamo
Alamo's living history encampment
Alamo’s living history encampment

Alamo’s Living History Encampment

This is pretty cool with re-enactors actually dressed in period clothing at a campsite behind the Alamo Church. We got to step back in time with costumed interpreters who brought the history of the Alamo to life. Visitors can see what life was like at the mission during the 1836 battle and learn about the people who fought and died there. Hands-on demonstrations include weapons, tool making and other life skills. Musket firing demonstrations takes place on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

old acequia irrigation ditch running behind the Alamo church
 acequia irrigation ditch with loi at the Alamo

At the back of the church, we found the remnants of the old acequia irrigation ditch. An acequia is a traditional irrigation canal used in Spanish and Mexican colonial settlements. Originally used to divert water from the San Antonio river for the mission settlement. This concrete aqueduct today holds an interesting collection of koi.

Bronze of Susanna Dickinson survivor cradling her daughter.
Susanna Dickinson survived the Alamo. After the battle, she provided valuable testimony about the events that transpired, helping to preserve the memory of the Alamo defenders.

Final Thoughts A Spotlight on Texas Most Famous Landmark: The Alamo

A great deal of renovation and archeological work is ongoing at Alamo Plaza. Expected to be completed in 2024, it will have an expanded Plaza de Valero, educational center and Mission Gate and Lunette. A new Visitor Center and Museum will be completed by 2027. This gives us a reason to return again.

The Alamo has since become a symbol of American courage and sacrifice, and it remains a popular tourist attraction as well being a site of historical significance in Texas. Whether you’re a history buff or just curious about this legendary site, a visit to the Alamo Curch is definitely worth it. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!

Have you been to the Alamo? What is your favorite memory? Leave a comment below. We love to have you share your thoughts.